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July, 2012
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Guest Blog -- Leveraging Talent and Staffing to Vision

by, Dr. Michael Helms, Senior Pastor-First Baptist Church Jefferson, GA
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Change is inevitable for all churches, but intentional change is often resisted, painful, and slow.  One way to lead a church through intentional change with as little conflict as possible is to get the church to buy into a vision.  Chris Gambill of the Center for Congregation Health worked with our visioning team for nearly a year and helped us develop our vision, core values, and a three-year action plan.

After we began implementing our plan, we realized that many of our objectives required attention that didn’t fall under any of our staff’s job descriptions.  In fact, the vision highlighted three main areas of weakness of our church: outreach, Sunday school, and discipleship.

Initially, the logical solution seemed to be to find a staff member to assign new roles of responsibility to shore up the gaps.  Isn’t that what that little phrase at the bottom of their job descriptions is for, “and all other tasks as assigned by pastor"?

How many staff members do you know that are doing ministry that they either were not called to do or they are not passionate about doing, but they plod along because they must have a job and they know if they complain they might be shown the door?  How many churches do you know that are unimaginative and afraid to think outside the typical program model of ministry?  Most churches operate on a program model: you choose a program of church ministry, then you go find someone to staff it.   After agreeing on the person’s main job, you fill in the gaps with other things around the church that need doing.  It’s simple. But is it effective?  We had to ask ourselves: “Is that the most effective way to achieve the vision of our church?”

What if churches built their staffs around their vision? What if church staffs were passionate about every aspect of their work?  Wouldn’t it be great if they didn’t tolerate part of their job so they could do the other part that they really wanted to do?

It took months of conversation with my staff and some praying before I reached the decision to make some realignment proposals to the personnel committee at First Baptist Church Jefferson, a proposal that ultimately was voted by the church to reshuffle the deck of our staff in the following way: Rev. Erica Cooper moves from Associate Pastor/Minister of Families to Associate Pastor/Minister of Education.  Kendra Abby, who works part time as Director of Early Childhood Education and part time as the Director of the First Baptist Church Preschool(a self-sustaining ministry), moves to fulltime as the Minister of Children.

As a side note, the church agreed to hire a part-time facilities manager to replace the contract laborers, which actually saved enough money to offset half of the salary needed to pay for the additional cost of the realignment, which was the additional pay needed in making Ms. Abee a fulltime employee.

I’m not saying we’ve discovered the Holy Grail to church growth.  However, in our efforts to close our gaps between our God-given vision and our ministry, we engaged our staff in conversation; leveraged their talents and passions; allowed our church to listen, discuss, and vote on this matter; and finally, redirected their ministries in ways that will directly benefit our church.   A more radical move and more difficult decision would be for those churches that would go through such a process, only to discover they didn’t have the right people on board for such a reorganization.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about the importance of getting the right people on the bus.  If the right people are not on the bus, a leader cannot be successful in moving the organization. In our case, we just needed to move members of our staff to positions more in line with the church's vision and also more in line with the talents they have and are developing.  This is good stewardship of personnel, good leadership from church leaders, and evidence that I'm pastoring a church that's seeking creative ways to accomplish its vision.  

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